Possibly the most unique instrument in a standard concert band, the trombone is both fun and rewarding to learn. And although many pick up the instrument for the first time in elementary school, it takes regular practice and dedication to become proficient at playing the trombone.
In 3 to 6 months after beginning your trombone journey, you can expect to know the basics of slide positions, and scales, and be able to play very simple tunes. By 12 months, you’ll be able to play simple songs well.
Now that you have a good foundation for the trombone, this is where it gets more difficult – getting to a point where you can play complex songs and consider yourself intermediate will likely take up to 5 years of consistent practice.
For jazz improvisation and more advanced techniques, you can expect to work at it for around 10 years. But becoming a true master trombonist will take a lifetime of persistence to maintain your abilities and continue to improve.
Here are a few trombone tips to get you started.
Holding a trombone is a critical first step to learning how to play it. Start by placing the instrument on the ground in front of you, the bell facing down. Wrap your left thumb around the brace closest to the bell tube, then wrap your bottom three fingers around the perpendicular brace. Your index finger can rest around the mouthpiece. Once you’ve lifted the trombone from the ground, your right hand will hold and move the slide as you play.
The trombone mouthpiece is used similarly to other brass instruments. Lightly press your lips together and blow a steady stream of air. You should feel your lips vibrate as air moves into the mouthpiece. First practice this on your own, then with the detached mouthpiece, and then, finally, attached to your trombone to play your first note.
What sets the trombone apart from other instruments is the unique way musicians play the notes. Instead of pressing buttons or keys, the trombone pitch is determined by what position the slide is in. There are seven slide positions, and each position can play several notes depending on the tightness of the player’s lips. The tighter the lips, the higher the note. The first position is played with the slide pulled all the way in, and the seventh position is when the slide is pushed all the way out. Positions two, three, four, five, and six are in their respective positions between the first and seventh. Practice simple scales to get the hang of playing the different notes.
Now that you have the basics down, you can begin learning songs. Start with tunes like “Hot Cross Buns”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. “When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson are also fairly simple, but may be more fun to play.
Once you’re comfortable reading music and moving between notes, you can try more complex solos such as Schubert’s “Ave Maria” or “Trombone Sonata” by Eric Ewazen. Jazz is also a great way to learn more advanced techniques. Learn to play songs like “Nothing but the Truth” by Al Grey or “Coffee Pot” by J. J. Johnson, then work on writing and improvising your own solos.
Even if you’re skillful at the trombone now, it won’t matter if you don’t dedicate regular time to practicing. Practicing for at least an hour several days per week is ideal, but picking it up at all is still beneficial to your progress. With consistent work, you’ll be ready to play solo or join an ensemble in no time.